In a letter to his third wife, Carlotta, Eugene O’Neill describes Long Day’s Journey Into Night as “a play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood.” It is a play that hits as close to home for audiences today as it did when it first premiered sixty years ago. As José Quintero puts it, “Only an artist of O’Neill’s extraordinary skill and perception can draw the curtain on the secrets of his own family to make you peer into your own.” O’Neill sets the stage for his Pulitzer Prize-wining tragedy in his family’s summer home in New London, Connecticut. The lifestyle of a theatre family, as portrayed through the Tyrones in Long Day Journey Into Night, mirrors that of the O’Neills. James’ work as an actor meant boarding school for sons Jamie and Gene and endless stays in hotel rooms and boarding houses for James and his wife, Ella. That summer cottage was the closest thing to a home that the family knew.
The stage directions in Long Day’s Journey Into Night are so excruciatingly precise, they include everything from which volumes by which authors are sitting in the bookshelves to what the characters see out beyond the four walls of the set through the windows.
The following are O’Neill’s stage directions describing the set of Long Day’s Journey Into Night:
Living room of James Tyrone’s summer home on a morning in August, 1912.
At rear are two double doorways with portieres. The one at right leads into a front parlor with the formally arranged, set appearance of a room rarely occupied. The other opens on a dark, windowless back parlor, never used except as a passage from living room to dining room. Against the wall between the doorways is a small bookcase with a picture of Shakespeare above it, containing novels by Balzac, Zola, Stendhal, philosophical and sociological works by Schopenhauer, Nietsche, Marx, Engels, Kropotkin, Max Stirner, plays by Ibsen, Shaw, Strindberg, poetry by Swinburne, Rossetti, Wilde, Ernest Dowson, Kipling, etc.
In the right wall, rear, is a screen door leading out on the porch which extends halfway around the house. Farther forward, a series of three windows looks over the front lawn to the harbor and the avenue that runs along the water front. A small wicker table and an ordinary oak desk are against the wall, flanking the windows.
In the left wall, a similar series of windows looks out on the grounds in the back of the house. Beneath them is a wicker couch with cushions, its head toward rear. Farther back is a large, glassed-in bookcase with sets of Dumas, victor Hugo, Charles Lever, three sets of Shakespeare, The World’s Best Literature in fifty large volumes, Hume’s History of England, Thiers’ History of the Consulate and Empire and miscellaneous volumes of old plays, poetry, and several histories of Ireland. The astonishing thing about these sets is that all the volumes have the look of having been read and reread.
The hardwood floor is nearly covered by a rug, inoffensive in design and color. At center is a round table with a green shaded reading lamp, the cord plugged in one of the four sockets in the chandelier above. Around the table within reading-light range are four chairs, three of them wicker armchairs, the fourth (at right front of the table) a varnished oak rocker with leather bottom.
The actual cottage (now called the Monte Cristo Cottage – after the role which brought James O’Neill fame and some degree of fortune) located in New London, Connecticut has been turned into a museum. Its curators have restored the living room to recreate O’Neill’s description as outlined in the above stage directions that open Long Day’s Journey Into Night. A must see next time you find yourself in New London!
~ Abigail Birkett, Undermain Emerging Artist